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Yamini Aiyar says restore faith in economic data, Naushad Forbes wants India in RCEP

The best of the day’s opinion, chosen and curated by ThePrint’s top editors.

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The new tenor in Maharashtra’s politics

Valerian Rodrigues | Indian political scientist and professor

The Hindu

Maharashtra’s political leaders have always focused on guarding their home turf, but many, including Shiv Sena, now believe that powers in New Delhi are trying to “undercut” them, writes Rodrigues. Shiv Sena has always been a “Brihat-Mumbai centred political outfit” and used “Marathi Manoos” as its rallying cry. Its ‘Hindu’ image always had a “distinct Marathi veneer” but in 1989 it moved beyond its traditional strongholds and forged an alliance with the BJP, and till 2012 was its leading partner, he writes. After 2014, Rodrigues notes, that this “bonhomie underwent a sea change”.

He writes that in the recent assembly elections, there were high expectations from the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance but its performance was disappointing. Like the Prime Minister, former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis centralised control in the Chief Minister’s Office, and Sena Ministers felt under surveillance, as a result. Many issues arose in Maharashtra under BJP’s watch — cooperatives were brought under bureaucratic controls, Marathas agitated on reservations, and there were delayed responses to the flood and drought crisis among others, writes Rodrgues. He argues that NCP “cashed in” on this and thus, “Marathi pride” took a “beating”.

Why we must listen to JNU

Parnal Chirmuley | Associate professor, Centre of German Studies, JNU

The Indian Express

Chirmuley writes that the stereotypes constructed around JNU students being “good-for-nothings” who live off taxpayer money is a way to “obfuscate the true nature” of the government’s education policies, and the fact that equitable access to higher education “transforms lives”. The fee hike will lead to “over 40 per cent” of JNU students “being completely abandoned by the education system” and will make JNU “one of the most expensive public universities in the country”, she adds.

Chirmuley argues that the students have a fundamental contention with the National Education Policy (NEP) 2019. According to the policy, “the setting up of the Higher Education Funding Authority (HEFA) … to replace the University Grants Commission requires institutions of higher education [to] function not on grants, but on loans that are to be recovered through fee hikes”. She calls this move a “pseudonym” for placing “education under the marketplace”. It “renders complete the shift from education as a right to education as a commodity”, she adds.

Chirmuley argues that students wish to ensure that “future generations can rightfully seek solid and affordable education instead of choosing between indebtedness and illiteracy”, and concludes by saying that “We need to listen to them, now.”

Reviving faith in India’s statistics

Yamini Aiyar | resident and chief executive, Centre for Policy Research

Hindustan Times

Aiyar discusses the Business Standard report that leaked an unpublished NSSO survey, showing an “unprecedented” 3.7 per cent drop in average monthly consumption between 2011-12 and 2017-18. The government rejected this data citing quality issues and a gap between data recorded in the Consumption Expenditure Survey and “other administrative data sources”. Aiyar notes that by “refusing to release data”, the government is “doing a serious disservice to its own stated cause”.

Furthermore, she notes that this is “not a new controversy” as gaps in such data have been the subject of “serious debate” since the 1990s. Aiyar makes two observations — first, India’s administrative data and National Accounts suffer from “serious weaknesses”, as seen through debates about the GDP and thus, there is a pressing need for “systematic overhaul and modernisation of India’s entire statistical system”. Second, contrary to the claims of divergence, there is other government data that point to convergence such as The Periodic Labour Force Survey, that shows a drop in employment for the same period as the NSSO survey.

She, further, argues that the absence of CES data leads to the conclusion that data has been withheld out of “political judgement” rather than “objective assessment” of data and this “politicisation of India’s statistical system” should worry us”.

What future generations learn can’t be left to private schools

Anurag Behar | CEO, Azim Premji Foundation


Behar raises the question of “what is ‘public’ about public education?” He observes that people have high expectations from education now but “delivery” is “falling way short”. The word public has two aspects to it, “equally for all; and… for the public good”, writes Behar.

He argues that “state education is a mechanism and not always the same thing as public education”. In order to build a democracy, “a society needs the capacities and commitments that arise from public education which serve a dual and entwined purpose — of socialisation, for people to be good citizens, and for all citizens to be equal and empowered”.

However, Behar argues that if the “curriculum were to change to suit the idiosyncratic needs of certain groups, or bend to ideology, ignoring truth, public education would no longer be public, since that would not further the public good.”

In conclusion, he maintains that a “public education system can only be on the basis of a system of state schools” and that “public education cannot happen without a sound state schooling system”.

Lies, Damn Lies & Statistics 

Neeraj Kaushal | Professor, Columbia University

The Economic Times

Kaushal wants someone to “comb out the lies” from the Indian economic statistics and tell the truth. She writes that Economic survey data “showed that Indian economy grew at an average of about 7% a year, or a cumulative 48% over the entire seven-year period” from 2011-18 but the draft of the consumer expenditure survey 2017-18 from NSSO, “shows that the average per-capita monthly spending” fell by 3.7 per cent in the same period. Kaushal argues that “it is not possible to have a 7% annual growth in GDP for seven years” and a stagnation or fall in consumption expenditure.

She writes that these “endorsements might be under the GIGO – Garbage In, Garbage Out – effect”. Furthermore, she argues that NSSO surveys “suffer from credibility issues”. Kaushal says that one possible explanation is that “with the proliferation of welfare schemes that provide benefits based on income, survey respondents have an incentive to under-report their incomes and consumption expenditure”.

Kaushal highlights that “when faced with data that shows the Indian economy in poor light, successive Indian governments have historically resorted to not releasing the data” and suggests that instead of hiding data, the government and NSSO should find ways to improve it.

RCEP: Two futures for India and its industry 

Naushad Forbes | Co-chairman, Forbes Marshall

Business Standard 

Forbes writes that “our negotiators have obtained a good deal for us in the RCEP” since India asked for “an automatic safeguard against a sudden surge in imports for any item from China”. He argues that “there are things to negotiate, interests to protect and advance, and domestic political concerns to satisfy” but if a “decisive prime minister” can’t address “these issues, then who can”.

He notes that “low or no tariffs are the best way to ensure our firms get competitive inputs” and that “our consumers get products at world competitive prices”. Further, it is the “choice we make in industry that will determine our future”. One alternative is that even if we “accept 72 years of independence”, we will “not be able to compete with the best in the world”. A second alternative is “to continue what we began”, which was to “open up to the world, [and] let the best in”. Forbes writes that “competition from imports is the best way to ensure that it is this type of firm that predominates”.

In conclusion, it is a “question of confidence for Indian industry”. The RCEP has provided us “with the stepping stones to integrate the best in the world” and the “prosperity of future generations depends on India joining the RCEP before the deal is concluded early next year”.

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